Gaming treads come and go, but it looks like some might be sticking. While we say goodbye to the Year of Luigi, I can’t help but smile and remember the Year of the Bow before it. With my sequestered love for bows followed by my undying love for men in green, I can’t help but look forward to the surprises 2014 has in store for me. If the current trend is any indication, it looks like 2014 is shaping up to be the Year of Space thanks to Entropy, Planetary Annihilation, and an upcoming turn-based space strategy game from L3O Interactive and Iceberg Interactive. It seems like 2014 might fulfill all of our exploring, expanding, exploiting and exterminating (4X) needs. Horizon is a turn-based empire builder of astronomical proportions that feels like it’s straight out of the ’90s.
If you found the real-time gameplay of Sins of a Solar Empire too hectic, Horizon might be more up your alley. While it’s similar in concept to Sins, the turn-based approach to gameplay sets Horizon eons apart and the result is a somber, thinking-man’s game. Like a good game of chess, it is slow-paced and might leave you feeling fatigued and pondering your self-worth until something exciting happens.
Most of the game takes place on an overhead map of the galaxy. You can click and zoom in to each galaxy on the map. Doing so opens a sector panel that shows all of the planets within the sector. From here you can assign certain orders to each ship in your fleet, such as surveying, digging or orbiting. If you’ve ever wanted to survey and orbit Uranus before digging into it, Horizon is the game for you! The amount of abilities at your disposal can be as overwhelming as the number of choices that come with deciding when you want to use them. You might need the income for an upcoming war effort, so you consider spending your money on building some farms, but doing so would leave you without the resources to defend against an incoming attack. Every possible outcome of each decision can hinder your progress, but it’s also mandatory for success.
Every decision you make takes a predefined number of turns before it’s completed. If you want to colonize Mars, you’re going to have to build a ship capable of colonizing planets and then send it on its way once it’s completed. Both of those take a number of turns, with each turn taking one year in-game. If you think a lot could happen in a year, think again. Especially early on, you will be spamming the turn button just to progress far enough to build the essentials. I can see the slow start put off a lot of players, but those who stick around will find a solid 4X title that holds its own against the renowned titles in the genre.
When you finally get to the combat, you’ll find yourself hooked. At least for me, the combat was my favorite part of my time with Horizon. It is so much more exciting than surveying planets and buying ships. Once combat is engaged, every ship can move and fire each turn. All aspects of directional warfare are taken into account, such as the direction ships are facing, shield placement and the speed of projectiles. You even have the ability to board enemy vessels to damage your foes from the inside out. Once you experience the combat aspect, Horizon feels like a totally different game. It’s just a shame it takes so long to get to the meat and potatoes.
Horizon really does feel like a game right out of the ’90s. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Graphically speaking, it’s one the ugliest games I’ve played in a while. Granted, a 4X title doesn’t need high quality graphics to sway fans into playing it, but they can still set the games apart – for better or worse. The simplistic graphics during gameplay make me feel like I am staring down at a game of Battleship; not the official game of the movie or an animated iOS port, but the physical, lifeless board game version. It gets the job done, but it won’t please anyone in that regard. Not only that, but the cinematic cutscenes that are rendered in low-quality 3D look laughably bad, even by ’90s standards.
While Horizon seems to be struggling with finding its place in the universe, not all hope is lost. There’s some solid gameplay there for strategy fans and lots of room for improvement before it is officially released. It’s hard to compare it to the likes of Civilization V, but those looking for a blast from the past should keep an eye on it.
Horizon is currently available for purchase through Steam Early Access for $24.99. It’s in the beta stage with most of its featured implemented but it still lacks the polish you would expect from a fully released game – but you can get a good idea of what to expect if you don’t want to wait for the developers to swat all the bugs, balance the gameplay, improve the AI and further update it to the final product.